Nusret Gökçe, better known as Salt Bae, has built a global restaurant empire by turning himself into a sodium-tossing, skimpy-T-shirt-wearing Instagram meme. But the Miami outpost of his Nusr-Et steakhouse chain has been troubled from the start, bedeviled by lukewarm reviews and the Turkish butcher's decision to engage in some Fidel Castro cosplay.
So it's an open question whether the eatery can survive Salt Bae's latest misstep: hosting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and First Lady Cilia Flores at his flagship in Istanbul while millions of Venezuelans struggle with mass food shortages.
Fueled in part by some timely Twitter doxxing by Sen. Marco Rubio, Miamians have already taken to the Yelp and Facebook pages of Salt Bae's Brickell location to denounce him for the move:
"I disliked this guy from day one on the whole viral Instagram bs... with his little salt," a Miami Yelp commenter named Leonel P writes this morning. "Thank God i never gave a cent of my money to this guy... and ill stand by it. Hope you leave miami. We don't want you here fidel/maduro lover!"
Salt Bae's latest political firestorm blew up last night when he posted video of a typically over-the-top steak being served to Maduro and Flores:
I know things are wild lately, but I never expected to see Salt Bae serving a feast to Nicolas Maduro pic.twitter.com/ao6dmLqRZe— Jesus Rodriguez (@jesusrodriguezb) September 17, 2018
At the same time Maduro dug into that extravagantly salted slab of meat, his people back in Venezuela were literally starving. The price of groceries has exploded over the past two years, while the value of Venezuela's currency has tanked. Baby formula is so scarce that mothers are banding together to give infants enough breast milk for basic nutrition.
Among those who quickly pounced on the video was Senator Rubio, who tweeted out the address and phone number of Salt Bae's Miami restaurant:
This guy @nusr_ett who admires dictator @NicolasMaduro so much actually owns a steakhouse in, of all places, #Miami. It’s called NUSR-ET STEAKHOUSE MIAMI located at 999 Brickell Avenue, Miami, FL 33131— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 18, 2018
The phone number is 1 305 415 9990 in case anyone wanted to call. https://t.co/7CDkgHVZWh
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As some commentators noted, Rubio's call for direct action against a clueless steakhouse celebrity was a bit rich coming from a guy who has repeatedly asked America to tone down its online outrage. But on the other hand, Salt Bae just served a lavish steak meal to a guy starving his own population — so some outrage might not be out of place in this story.
Either way, Salt Bae quickly deleted the video. But so far, he hasn't commented on why he served the Venezuelan strongman.
An operator at Salt Bae's Brickell restaurant told New Times this morning that the establishment has been inundated with calls about the Maduro meal. The operator referred comment to a Turkey-based spokesman for the restaurant chain, who didn't immediately respond to an email.
According to the operator, the restaurant in Brickell will be open for business as usual this afternoon.